Before I begin, I was sent a prototype of the game, and will receive a copy of the finished product in exchange for an honest review. This is not a paid preview. If you would like to check out a video of this preview, it is below, as well as a solo play of the expansion. Learn how to get your own copy here. Read to the end for a chance to win a copy!
Adventure. Danger. Dungeons. Monsters. Heroes. Banking. Spaceships. Laser Blasters. Pew Pew Pew! One of those things simply does not fit. In fact one of those things is something that given my druthers I would never, ever, ever, recommend creating a board game about, if you wanted to catch my attention. Figured out which one? Yeah. Banking. Yeesh. I can feel myself getting tired already.
So imagine my surprise, almost confusion, when I found myself set to preview Ping Yao: First Chinese Banks, and its expansion “The Golden Pawner”. None-the-less, I dove in with all my knowledge of how the first Chinese banks functioned. So no knowledge whatsoever. Luckily for me the game came with a little book that taught me a few things, which certainly helped me understand how it all worked in game.
Ping Yao is, at its core, a dice worker placement/engine building game. In each of the 8 rounds you will be rolling your dice, and then placing them out on the board to take a cariety of actions. These actions include: taking or giving loans, building new branches, hire new workers for your banks, increasing your fame, bribing the local government, or taking remittances (you put money in one bank, make some money on it, and then take it out of another later on).
However, what is interesting about it is that the higher the number on your die the earlier you get to claim a spot, but the less powerful the ability is. In addition to this, every time you place one of your dice on an occupied space you will have to pay coins in the amount of the difference between the numbers of the dice to take that action. It is also worth noting that it is possible that it is possible, though relatively less common, to place a higher number, which result in you getting paid instead.
All of that is relatively simple, but the complexity gets added to the game when you start to consider how you build your engine. Are you going to focus on opening as many branches as possible?; are you going to focus on giving out lots of loans?; taking remittances?; maxing out your fame? You see all of these things are viable strategies in the game, and it is up to you to figure out the best way to make the most money by spending as little of yours as possible.
So what do I think?
The theme is nailed. I really do feel like I am running some kind of banking empire as I play the game. What is more important however, is that the game is perfectly streamlined. Every single action is easy to understand, turns are quick, and the engine building is unbelievably satisfying.
However, the true bit of inspiration with this game has to be the dice placement. You see, dice placement is always fun, but the way that you can buy your way out of being blocked is just delightful, and it is even more delightful how if you play your cards right (don’t worry there are not cards) you can actually get paid to go to a space. It is awesome.
Oh, did I fail to mention the expansion? The Golden Pawner expansion makes the game even better. It does make it more complicated and ups it to medium-heavy, but it is just an incredible experience when you add it in.
Finally, the solo mode is a true delight. Not only is it a delight, but it is an incredible challenge. I have played 10 times or so…and I have yet to win. That may sound horrible, but it is awesome, you see because ever game I have been so close to pulling it off, that I could look back and see where I made mistakes that cost me. Love it.
The game is sneakily pretty. It looks good on the table, but what really makes the aesthetics pop are the components. The metal coins and the metal silver ingots are just boss.
At its core this is still a game that utilizes dice, so it is possible for you to simply roll in a way that you are doomed to fines from the Fed. It does not happen often, but it is possible, even with mitigation. This is also just about the most euro of euro games out there. If you are not into euro games, then steer clear.
Bringing it all together
Ping Yao is a perfectly streamlined economic engine building experience. It’s theme is realized better than just about any euro I have ever played, and the solo mode is one of the best solo modes in the business. The dice placement system is truly inspired, and the engine building is so satisfying. Though it makes it heavier, the expansion takes a very good game and makes it wonderful. The dice can lead to the occasional situation where you feel stuck, and it is just about the most euro-y game I have ever played this side of a farming simulator.
I will double your interest rate if you just get to the point
* Perfectly streamlined euro with delightful engine building, and inspired dice worker placement
* Theme is nailed
* Attractive to look at with some awesome components
* Just about the most euro of euro games out there
* Dice are still dice, and can lead you to feeling like you are stuck every so often
* Expansion is awesome though it does increase the weight of the game
* One of the best solo modes in euro gaming
Win your own copy here!